California’s controversial reparations task force has released its hotly-anticipated final report and laid out a series of calculations that could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars in payments.
The historic report, which has been two years in the making, was presented to state lawmakers after a fiery meeting in Sacramento where members of the task force said the document was a ‘book of truth’.
But the report will arouse further controversy among opponents of reparations, after it repeated eyewatering estimates for the cash value of inequalities faced by black people in California.
An executive summary of the 1,200-page report said the ‘mass incarceration and over-policing of African Americans’ was equivalent to $228billion.
The group did not put an overall figure on reparations in the document, but previously touted as much as $800billion to be handed to black people.
Lisa Holder, a civil rights attorney and task force member, said the report was a ‘book of truth’ which ‘will be a legacy, will be a testament to the full story’.
‘Anyone who says that we are colorblind, that we have solved the problem of anti-black racism, I challenge you to read this document,’ she said.
California’s reparations task force handed over its final report to lawmakers on Thursday and included proposals that could cost the state hundreds of billions of dollars. From left, State Sen. Steven Bradford, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, task force member Lisa Holder and Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer
The panel’s work has been hugely controversial, partly because of the eyewatering dollar values it has attached to ‘harms and atrocities’ faced by black people
Kamilah Moore, an intellectual property and entertainment lawyer who led the task force, called the last two years a whirlwind.
‘It’s been very work intensive, but also very cathartic and very emotional,’ she said. ‘We’re standing in the shoes of our ancestors to finish, essentially, this sacred project.’
In total, the panel proposed more than 100 policies and also called for a formal apology for ‘the perpetration of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants’.
The state reparations panel is the first of its kind in America. But its recommendations are far from becoming reality.
State lawmakers and Governor Gavin Newsom must agree for any money to be paid or for any policy changes to be adopted.
The California panel did not recommend a fixed dollar amount for financial redress, but endorsed controversial economic methodologies to calculate what is owed for decades of overpolicing, disproportionate incarceration and housing discrimination.
Initial calculations pegged California’s potential cost at more than $800 billion — more than 2.5 times the state’s annual budget.
The estimated cost was cut to $500 billion in a later report, though no explanation was made about the change.
The panel has recommended prioritizing elders for financial compensation.
Economists recommended nearly $1 million for a 71-year-old Black person who lived all their life in California – or $13,600 per year – for health disparities that shorten the average life span.
Black people subjected to aggressive policing and prosecution in the ‘war on drugs’ from 1971 to 2020 could each receive $115,000 if they lived in California throughout that period, or more than $2,300 for each year, under the calculations.
Kamilah Moore, the lawyer who led the task force, said: ‘We’re standing in the shoes of our ancestors to finish, essentially, this sacred project’
The reparations task force was established by California Governor Gavin Newsom following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Newsom and state lawmakers must approve the report before any reparations can be paid
The report details California’s role in perpetuating discrimination against Black residents and suggests more than 100 ways to repair the harm.
Ideas range from formally apologizing to paying descendants of enslaved people for having suffered under racist actions such as over-policing and housing discrimination.
The panel also recommended creating a new agency to oversee reparations efforts.
California entered the union in 1850 as a ‘free state’, whereby slavery and the slave trade were prohibited. Supporters of reparations say the history is more complex and belies the discrimination African Americans still faced.
Thursday’s meeting coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court striking down affirmative action in higher education, programs that have disproportionately helped Black students.
The ruling won’t affect public colleges or universities in California because its voters eliminated state and local government affirmative action in 1996.
Task force members said their suggestions will pass legal muster because the benefits suggested would only go to descendants of enslaved people, not to all Black residents.
California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who wrote legislation creating the task force, addressed those who questioned the need for reparations in a state where slavery was never officially sanctioned.
She pointed out the wide-ranging harms the task force found that stemmed from slavery’s lingering effects.
‘Reparations is due whether you’re in Mississippi or you’re in California,’ she said.
‘We have done it for others, but we have not done it for African Americans who have probably suffered the most harm.’
The task force narrowly voted to limit any financial redress to residents who can document lineage from Black people who were in the U.S. in the 19th century.
California’s reparations task force (pictured at an earlier meeting) considered recommendations which would cost an estimated $800 billion
More than 200 people gathered at the meeting in Sacramento, with an overflow crowd outside the room. Inside, many stood at one point and began a call-and-response to demand action.
‘What do we want?’ someone shouted. ‘Reparations,’ the crowd responded.
‘When do we want them?’ he asked. ‘Now!’
The nine-member reparations panel convened in June 2021, the year after Newsom signed legislation creating the group. Newsom and legislative leaders picked the members, including lawyers, educators, elected officials and civil rights leaders descended from enslaved people.
Federal reparations efforts have stalled for decades, but cities, counties, school districts and universities have taken up the cause.
An advisory group in San Francisco recommended that qualifying Black adults receive a $5 million lump-sum, guaranteed annual income of at least $97,000 and personal debt forgiveness.
San Francisco supervisors are supposed to take up the proposals later this year. But the currently is currently battling a separate set of problems, including an exodus of businesses in the downtown area amid crime, homelessness and drug abuse.
New York may soon follow in California by creating a commission to examine the state’s involvement in slavery and consider addressing present-day economic and educational disparities experienced by Black people.